Record Number of Gender-Neutral Names Given to Babies in 2021
A record number of babies were given gender-neutral names in 2021 – up 4.71% from the year before. Since 2000, baby naming website Listophile has kept track of Social Security Administration data to reveal trends and patterns in gender-neutral baby names. A look at this data reveals there has been 79.4% rise in popularity of gender-neutral baby names since the year 2000.
- A record number of gender-neutral baby names were given to both males and females in 2021 — totaling 108,571 instances — up 4.71% YoY.
- In 2021, the split of gender-neutral names between the sexes was a 52.6% male vs 47.4% female.
- Gender-neutral baby names have risen in popularity 79.40% since 2000 and are a growing trend among parents.
- There are a combination of influences behind the rise in gender-neutral names. The most significant reasons why unisex names have increased in popularity include:
- Disapproval of gender stereotyping
- Perception of unisex names as stronger options for girls
- Recognition of possible gender fluidity in children
- Parents desire for a ‘unique’ name
- Influence of the ‘Celebrity Baby Name Effect’
- Historic cross-cultural influences in the United States
- Relatively open, non-restrictive naming legislation in the US.
- Gendered names continue to hold the top spots on the most popular baby name lists, and this is a trend going back hundreds of years. Gender-neutral names, however, are on the rise and continue to gain prominence in the broader rankings. If this trend continues, we could see some of the top spots shifting to unisex options.
- The most popular gender-neutral names for babies registered as female are Charlie, Parker, Emerson, River and Finley. The most popular gender-neutral names for babies registered as male are Parker, River, Hayden, Charlie and Blake.
- Gender-neutral baby names that increased most in popularity since 2000, in other words unisex names that are trending are Murphy, Sutton, Denver, Bellamy and Legacy for girls and Legacy, Salem, Karsyn, Oakley and Sutton for boys.
The Rise of Unisex Names in the United States
Gendered names have long held the top spots for both boys and girls. However, gender-neutral names are on the rise and continue to gain prominence in the broader rankings.
The rise of unisex names has been greatly publicized. Listophile set out to quantify the rise in popularity, and in speaking to parents, discover the reasoning behind the unisex baby naming trend.
What is a Gender-Neutral Name?
A gender-neutral name, or unisex name, is a given name that is not gender-specific. It is a name that can be used regardless of the sex assigned at birth to the child and does not serve as a gender marker.
There are a couple of approaches you can take to find unisex names.
Some unisex names did not start out as such, but there was a point at which enough people of the opposite gender started using them widely enough that the balance tipped. This is most commonly true for names that were traditionally used for boys that eventually became popular for girls. For example, the names Ashley, Addison, Dana, Kelly, Tracy, and Quinn were all once considered traditional boy names, but are less so today. The transformation rarely goes the other way. Names traditionally used for girls tend to remain gendered as girl names.
Beyond the shift from boy names to gender-neutral ones, there are other categories of names that tend to be more gender neutral by their class and composition.
For instance, nature is a great source of names that work well for any gender. Consider names like Rain, River, Sage, Sky, or Blue. Other nature-influenced terms that provide options for unisex names include seasons or months, such as August and Winter. The natural world also provides celestial names including Mars, Mercury, Galaxy, Star, Jupiter, Nova, and Orion.
Geography is another great source of inspiration. The names of cities, states, countries, and continents can provide some great unisex name choices. Camden, Dakota, Madison, Hudson, and Phoenix are all available options.
Last names — such as Harper, Anderson, and Madison — are also popular. Additionally, word names from the English language have become popular including Justice, Lyric, Scout, True, and Royal.
In summary, what makes a unisex name is really about usage, and — because language is fluid — that usage can change over time.
Trendiness and Popularity of Unisex Baby Names
Increasing numbers of parents are seeking out unisex naming options. Gender-neutral baby names have seen several spikes in popularity since the year 2000.
Millennials (born roughly between 1981-1996 and currently aged 26-41) started to parent around the year 2000. From the chart below, we can see unisex names have long been favorites of this generation, with a particularly sharp rise in unisex names since 2015.
In 2000, there were 60,520 instances of gender-neutral baby names (where names have at least one-third to two-thirds split between male and female), while in 2021 the number grew to 108,571 — an increase in popularity of 79.40%.
The chart below illustrates the rise in popularity of gender-neutral baby names since the year 2000. There were a record number of unisex names given to both males and females in 2021:
We have also used these statistics to analyze the split between male and female unisex names over the same period.
Millennial parents favored giving unisex names to male children from 2000-2003 and from 2015-present.
At the same time, Millennial parents chose gender-neutral names for girls at varying levels. The highest spikes were seen from 2000-2003, 2007-2009, and from 2015-present.
In 2021, there were 50,404 instances of gender-neutral baby names given to female babies, and 55,943 instances of gender-neutral baby names given to male babies — resulting in a 52.6% male vs 47.4% female split between the sexes.
The chart below illustrates the changes in popularity of gender-neutral baby names between male and females since the year 2000:
In summary, the strong preference for traditionally gendered names has steadily been eroded since 2000. Parents are increasingly opting for gender-neutral names that traverse the traditional gender line.
It is interesting to note that the Generation Alpha (babies born roughly between 2010-2025) have so far been impacted the most from by the sharp increase in unisex names. Unisex names have risen in popularity by 53.29% with Generation Alpha parents. This trend is so pronounced that unisex names will likely become a cultural marker of Generation Alpha.
Why Have Unisex Baby Names Become So Popular?
The trend is clear. The past 20 years have seen a sharp increase in parents giving their children gender-neutral names. The next question is, why?
There is no single answer to that question. Understanding the rise in popularity requires looking at influences that work both separately and in relation to one another.
1. Disapproval of Gender Stereotyping
Millennial parents were raised during the 80’s and 90’s and have largely expressed a rejection of the hyper-gendering of children. As this generation of children aged, there was unprecedented pressure to conform to specific gendered stereotypes when it came to dress, mannerisms, and even play.
To illustrate this point, take a look at the way that many Millennial parents responded to an internet-sparked resurgence of a 1981 LEGO advertisement.
The 1981 advertisement featured a pig-tailed little girl proudly holding her LEGO creation. She’s wearing overalls and the blocks feature primary colors.
Compare this to a 2012 advertisement, where children’s LEGO has become much more binary along gender lines. The toy world in general has little girls decked out in pink sparkles and thrust into onesies declaring them princesses while boys are covered in blue and handed toy trucks and tools.
Concerns about the impacts of such binary gendering have been a source of frequent (and often very public) contemplation for parents in recent years. Melissa Hogenboom, who penned The Motherhood Complex, a scientific exploration of motherhood wrote a piece for the BBC. It called for parents to be conscious of working to undo gender stereotypes in their parenting: “If we fail to understand that we are more alike from birth than we are different and treat our children accordingly, our world will continue to be gendered. Undoing these assumptions is not easy, but perhaps we can all think twice before we tell a little boy how brave he is and a little girl how kind or perfect she is.”
Now that Millennials are raising their own children, many of these parents have shown their disapproval of gender stereotyping. Moreover, with the rise of the feminist movement, which opposes gender distinctions and limitations based on gender, increasing numbers of parents are choosing not to give their girls feminine names, which they believe are often negatively typecast.
Many Millennials recognize the positive social associations of having a genderless name. Jessica Gossard, a self-confessed feminist and Millennial mom from Iowa chose a unisex name for her daughter in an effort to subvert gender norms. “I named my daughter Ezra because we liked the name. However, I’m a firm believer in female empowerment and I didn’t want my daughter growing up with a stereotypical ‘girly girl’ name like mine.”
Listophile also spoke to a mom from Newport Beach, California named Ashley. She told us she didn’t believe certain names are for certain genders. “Names should essentially be genderless. It’s society that wants to put them in one column, or another. I named my son Harper because we love the name. Harper was historically a male name, although now more girls are named Harper than boys. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. As long as a name doesn’t harm a child, people shouldn’t care what parents name their children.”
2. Unisex Names are Perceived as Strong Names for Females
Gender-neutral names have also been found to have benefits for women in the workforce. Studies have found that having a masculine name gives women an edge, especially if they are in a field that’s heavily dominated by men such as law or engineering. For example, a study on masculine names for women found that female lawyers with more masculine or ambiguously-gendered names are more likely to become judges.
This is likely due to the widespread phenomena in the working world of name discrimination. Names that lean a little masculine or less feminine are perceived as ‘stronger’ and have historically been favored by hiring managers.
Increasing numbers of Millennial parents realize this. Amanda, a mom from Colorado chose a unisex name for daughter as an opportunity for her not to be limited by her name. “We chose the name Maxwell (nickname Max) because it’s a strong name. It’s also a unique name for a girl that everyone remembers. Maxwell is a respectable name that people take seriously. We wanted a strong name that people respect and value”.
3. Parents are Recognizing the Possibility of Gender Fluidity
Another factor influencing the rise in gender-neutral names is the increasing awareness surrounding gender fluidity. More than ever, parents are willing to embrace the possibility of gender fluidity in their children and believe a child’s gender shouldn’t be defined by their name.
We have seen that many parents are now choosing to raise their children outside of traditional gender roles. While sex can be revealed even before a baby is born, many parents believe that gender is a fluid and culturally-influenced identity, and that a child cannot determine this identity until later in life.
By raising their children as gender neutral or with the understanding that gender is a spectrum, these parents embrace the potential for gender fluidity and feel they are giving their children the opportunity to develop a sense of self, free from stereotypes and pressure to conform. These parents often use gender-neutral pronouns when referring to their children. Instead of using “he,” “she,” “him,” or “her,” these parents will use “they,” “theirs,” and “them.” This has led to a new term for these gender-neutral children: Theyby or Theybies.
These efforts to understand and respect the potential for gender fluidity are bolstered by support from reputable medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic, which offers parents advice on how to talk about gender identity and expression with their children.
Once genderfluid children are old enough to make choices about their identity and how they choose to present themselves to the world, they can choose the pronouns and expressions that fit them. In these cases, having a unisex name allows the child a wide range of identities without having to change their name.
Choosing a gender-neutral name allows parents to avoid placing the burden of gender stereotypes and gendered expectations on their children.
4. Parents Desire to Give their Children a ‘Unique’ Name
The surge in popularity of unisex names has also given them the benefit of being cool, modern, and trendy.
Millennials by their nature are non-traditional, and increasing numbers of parents place value on baby names that are seen as different or unique. Unisex names are therefore meaningful to them, because they are seen as cool and trendy.
Rachel, a Gen X mom raised in New Jersey chose the name Emerson for her daughter. She reflects, “When I was growing up my name was extremely common. All the way through grade school there were at least one other Rachel in my class. Personally I dislike a lot of names that were popular during the 1980’s and 90’s. My husband and I both like unisex names, especially for girls. We chose Emerson because it’s sounds modern and different”.
5. The Influence of the ‘Celebrity Baby Name Effect’
Another important factor in the rise of unisex names can be attributed to something known as ‘The Celebrity Baby Name Effect.’ Each year, thousands of parents in the United States follow the example of their favorite celebrities and give their children the same names they used for their children.
Celebrities that have chosen unisex names for their children include Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who named their children North, Saint, Chicago and Psalm.
Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have outspokenly supported their children’s identity exploration, which includes a sense of gender fluidity. Their son, Jaden, is particularly thrust into the spotlight for his non-conforming adherence to gender roles, and he has a name to match.
Mark Zuckerberg, the famous Facebook mogul, and his wife Priscilla Chan gave their daughter the name August, which has traditionally been a boy’s name, but is now surely going to see a gender-neutral rise.
These celebrities are in a position to buck trends and stereotypes more easily since alternative baby names are considered customary for the elite and famous. Celebrities ‘normalize’ these types of names, making the trend long-standing and widespread throughout the general population.
6. Cross-Cultural Influences
The United States is quite unique in the fact it is an English-speaking country (and unisex names are generally far more common in English-speaking countries), yet the US has a rich history of cross-cultural influences. Throughout America’s history, different cultures have melded together. Where some names were masculine in one culture and feminine in another (and vice-versa), as cultures have mixed, the same name can appear unisex. As baby naming has evolved in the United States, parents have become less inclined to raise their eyebrows at names that traverse the traditional gender line.
For example, in Italy, the names Andrea, Nicola and Simone are masculine names. However, in English-speaking countries, these names are mostly considered feminine. As the name traveled across the globe, the gendered association shifted.
7. Relatively Open, Non-restrictive Naming Legislation in the US
The United States is also different from other countries in the fact that practices of naming children are relatively unfettered by legislation. As opposed to, for example, countries such as Portugal, Denmark, and Iceland where unisex names are forbidden by law.
As the website US Birth Certificates explains, naming laws in the United States vary from state to state. However, very few specific names are actually banned. These liberal naming laws are partly due to the fact that many courts have interpreted specific parts of the US Constitution as supporting parents’ rights to choose their children’s names.
Varying states limit the number of characters that can be used in a name. Some also ban “pictograms, obscenity, foreign characters, symbols, emojis, or any offensive language.”
These types of naming regulations made headlines when Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and musician Grimes announced that their newborn baby boy would be named X Æ A-12. California law allows only the 26 English letters of the alphabet to be used in naming, so the Æ and the number 12 were both disallowed.
There are, however, no laws in the United States related to unisex names or names that cross the traditional gender line.
Most Popular Unisex Baby Names for Males and Females
For context, we have included the top 50 unisex names in the United States for males and females. Also included is the Social Security Administration’s ranking. This shows the popularity of each name relative to male and female gendered names.
There are 38 unisex names in the top 1,000 girl names, and 44 unisex names in the top 1,000 boy names. There are no unisex names in the top 100 girl names, and only 1 unisex name in the top 100 boy names.
Unisex baby names that increased most in popularity since 2000, in other words unisex names that are trending are Murphy, Sutton, Denver, Bellamy and Legacy for girls and Legacy, Salem, Karsyn, Oakley and Sutton for boys.
It’s clear, gendered names hold the top spots on the most popular baby name lists, and this is a trend going back hundreds of years. As we have seen, however, unisex names are on the rise and continue to gain prominence in the broader rankings. If this trend continues, we could see some of the top spots shifting to unisex options.
|Unisex Name||Female Name Rank|
|Unisex Name||Male Name Rank|
There is no doubt gender-neutral names are on the rise, with a 79.40% increase in unisex baby names since the year 2000.
The reasoning behind the increase varies from complex considerations of the ethics of gender stereotyping and normalization of non-binary genders, to a generation becoming more aware of the power of names, to simply trying to pick a name that sounds cool and modern.
It’s also quite likely that there has been a compounded effect in these varied influences. A trend in unisex names that picked up in an attempt to avoid gendered stereotypes was bolstered by widespread recognition of gender fluidity. A celebrity naming trend became even more entrenched when it tapped into parents wanting to find unique names for their children.
To put it simply, the rise in unisex names is a result of a combination of influences. These influences have given the ‘unisex naming trend’ both stability and reach, which in turn, continues to make the trend more popular and widespread.
However deeply rooted the reasons may be, it’s clear that unisex names will be a cultural marker of the children of Millennials, and possibly many more generations to come.
1. Listophile’s report is based on the collection of given names as recorded by the SSA. This report collected datasets from 74,632,294 instances of baby names given between the years 2000-2020. The duplicate names common to both females and males (unisex names) were analyzed for each year. This sizable dataset gave us a unique insight into unisex names consisting of 799,724 instances of female-given names and 822,123 instances of male-given names.
2. For the purposes of the analysis, a name was considered unisex if it falls between one-third and two-thirds split between male and female. This split gave us the most gender-balanced names and ensured the names were truly unisex.
3. The minimum threshold for defining a unisex name was set to 5 or more names given to babies in a particular year. We used this threshold because it is the minimum number used by the SSA in collecting baby names. Unisex names are quite often, at least in their infancy, ‘fringe’ names. This allowed us to collect both popular and more unique unisex names.
4. The SSA does not edit its list of names, and therefore a number of placeholder names were included in the raw data. We identified and removed four of these from the dataset: ‘Unknown,’ ‘Unnamed,’ ‘Infant,’ and ‘Notnamed.’ Names that may or may not be placeholder names — such as ‘Baby’ and ‘Child’ — were deemed ambiguous and therefore remained in the dataset.